Opinion article

Communities are key to solving some of Australia's big problems

Following his appearance at the 2020 Economic and Political Overview launch event in Sydney, Centre for Policy Development Chair, Terry Moran AC, argues for the importance of community based approaches to providing critical services. He argues that the strength of place-based public policy solutions are a case for greater collaboration between the states and the Commonwealth. 

The Centre for Policy Development (CPD) has found that locally connected, place-based approaches to delivering critical services achieve better economic and social outcomes. CPD is not alone in this finding.

Sandra McPhee’s expert advisory panel report on employment services, delivered in 2018, recognised that “the most successful government programs are those that are flexible and adaptable to local conditions, allowing communities to create local solutions to their own needs and maximising employment opportunities”.[1] More recently, David Thodey’s Independent Review of the Australian Public Service said that “a whole-of-government framework for place-based investment that promotes joint decision-making on services will cater for communities’ specific needs and opportunities better”.[2] Peter Shergold found the same in his review of settlement outcomes for humanitarian migrants. In an oration in honour of the late John Cain last year, I said “the best examples of public sector service delivery at the national level are formal joint ventures between the Commonwealth and the States – public hospitals and schools. Each more efficient than their private equivalents.”[3]
Emerging from CPD’s work on boosting economic participation for refugees is the Community Deals model, which allows for coordinated service delivery of key services by a local consortium, informed by family-centred case management and strategic employer engagement. Community Deals harness local, state and federal resources and create a genuine partnership between government, industry and communities to boost economic and social participation and inclusion for people facing disadvantage. The Community Deals accountability and evaluation system apply a tight-loose-tight framework, where there are: clear outcomes (tight); freedom to deliver in a way that makes sense on the ground (loose); and a single reporting and accountability system (tight).
The model has the potential to address the broader deficiencies in the current system – including lack of coordination, tailoring and local adaptation, and resource wastage – and address the needs of other groups experiencing disadvantage. The benefits emerging for all stakeholders are profound:
  • For people facing disadvantage they offer a simple, integrated and effective local services ecosystem to address their needs, leading to sustainable employment, business creation and greater social inclusion.
  • For employers and industry they provide a simple way of identifying jobseekers in the local community and meeting social impact goals.
  • For service providers they are a way to develop and grow effective and holistic solutions for clients in collaboration with other local providers and improve the retention and wellbeing of their staff.
  • For government, they offer savings in spending on other services that address the consequences of social and economic disadvantage, as well as a wide range of positive social and economic dividends associated with inclusion.
  • For regional communities, they are an opportunity to revitalise their communities, build cohesion and address their local needs.
The significance of these approaches in the context of refugee settlement is clear. As Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, the Hon. Alan Tudge, said in his speech on working together delivered on 7 February, the unemployment rate of newly arrived refugees in Australia is not good enough and we have to do better. The prize for doing so is immense, “most importantly for individuals to enable them to fulfil their potential. But also, for Australian society, socially and economically”.[4]
Community Deals offer a way to address this challenge directly and sustainably. In Wyndham, Victoria, CPD has worked alongside Wyndham City Council (WCC) to develop the Wyndham Employment Trial to boost economic participation for young people with refugee backgrounds. Based on the Community Deals model, the trial involves service coordination – between jobactive, Jobs Victoria providers and others – and strategic employer engagement. It has seen some great success. As of 1 January 2020, 73 humanitarian migrants have been placed in employment as a result of collaboration enabled by the trial. Eighteen employers are actively involved, providing information on vacancies, recruiting and offering employment.
The Wyndham trial has been built on state and federal grant funding, but the intention is to structure ongoing funding streams from all levels of government into the Community Deal for long term sustainability. Actors engaged in place-based approaches to economic and social participation for migrants and refugees in NSW, QLD and Vic are unanimous that connecting up the federal and state systems, and adapting key programs to effectively deliver in place, is vital to their sustainable success.
As Professors Withers and Twomey state “Australia’s federal system provides us with many economic and social benefits…Federalism: divides and limits power, protecting the individual; gives Australians a wider range of choices and allows policies and services to be tailored to meet the needs of communities; and spurs all Australian governments to be more innovative and responsive.”[5] To take advantage of the opportunities Federalism provides, place, and working effectively in place, must be put front and centre. This will give us the best chance of breaking cycles of disadvantage and offering Australians, their families and their communities the opportunity to truly thrive.
[1] Sandra McPhee AM’s Expert Advisory Panel report ‘I want to work: Employment Services 2020, 2018, p.69
[3] Terry Moran AC, Federalism: Commonwealth, State and Local Government Working Together, John Cain Foundation Lecture, 27 November 2019 available here: https://cpd.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Terry-Moran-AC-John-Cain-Lecture-27.11.19.pdf
[4] The Hon Alan Tudge MP Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure, Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, Menzies Research Centre, Melbourne, 7 February 2020
[5] Cited in the Cain Oration, Moran, Terry. ‘Federalism: Commonwealth, State and Local Government Working Together’, John Cain Foundation Lecture, 27 November 2019, p6. url: https://cpd.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Terry-Moran-AC-John-Cain-Lecture-27.11.19.pdf
About the authors

Terry Moran

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Terry Moran served as Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Australia’s most senior public servant position, from 2008 to 2011. He also chaired the Advisory Group on the Reform of Australian Government Administration, which developed a blueprint for reform of the Australian Public Service. Prior to joining PM&C, Terry held a number of senior positions at state and federal level, including Secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet in Victoria, Director-General of Education in Queensland and CEO of the Australian National Training Authority.